There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Transparency at Work
Do you want your workplace to be transparent?
We’re willing to bet the answer is “Yes,” given how many companies today boast about their transparent policies and cultures. It makes sense that transparency is so popular, given that 46 percent of employees in one study cited a “lack of transparent leadership communication” as a driving factor behind their decision to look for employment elsewhere.
As with any management tactic, however, transparency is far more complicated to implement than it sounds. When asked about transparency in the workplace, many people won’t hesitate to demand more, more, more. But the truth is that transparency, like pretty much everything else, is a matter of finding the right balance.
Last year, Business Insider explored the hiring process at Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. Bridgewater takes recruiting very seriously, putting potential hires through hours of surveys, personality assessments, and phone interviews in order determine who is a fit for the organization.
Bridgewater’s company culture is founded on a sense of “radical transparency” that encourages employees to constantly challenge each other and reflect on one another’s decisions and mistakes. No one is immune to this sometimes painful transparency: Subordinates challenge the decisions of leaders and vice versa.
Feedback of this kind is believed to build better alignment between employees and the company. Ninety-seven percent of employees and executives believe that a lack of alignment can harm the outcomes of projects. Furthermore, businesses with effective communication processes are 50 percent more likely to have lower levels of employee turnover. Bridgewater’s radical transparency aims to create more accountability, more alignment, and more efficiency.
Can You Have ‘Too Much’ Transparency?
The stats cited above all point to the necessity of organizational alignment and feedback between leaders and employees. To attain these things, we need to be more transparent and provide real-time feedback quickly, right?
Well – yes and no.
Yes, employees are all but begging for more feedback from their managers, and most managers are open to input from their employees. However, the approach Bridgewater Associates takes isn’t for everyone. In fact, the company itself admits its processes can be troublesome for some individuals, which is exactly why candidates are assessed so rigorously before an offer is extended.
Too much transparency can lead to the oversharing of company affairs. Business owners have a responsibility to their employees to disclose problems that might lead to dismissals, but discussing every financial struggle or employee salary could lead to unrest, loss of confidence, and detrimental competition among employees.
Additionally, as demonstrated by Bridgewater’s recruitment process, complete transparency just doesn’t sit well with every personality. Diversity of thought is important for company innovation, so isolating one type of worker could hinder your business, especially in creative or people-focused industries.
It is important to understand that when employees say they want transparency, they mean they want more communication with leadership and clarity around how their work aligns with overall company goals. Employees also want management that takes ownership of its mistakes and thoroughly explains policy adjustments in advance.
The level of transparency your organization enacts should ultimately depend on your company culture and the people who work in it. If every step is taken with the satisfaction and development of your workforce in mind, your workforce will respond with loyalty and dedication.
A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.
Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.